Many of you already know that Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has ties to Mt. Pleasant, namely the Seely Family. This talk was given at the 2009 SGS (Seely Genealogy Conference) on August 5, 2009.
THE POWER OF
By Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Fidelity to Duty
The third quality that can be strengthened
by a knowledge of family history is closely
related. I call it fidelity to duty.
In 1942 the Russian Army defeated the
German Army in the epic battle of Stalingrad.
The magnitude of the German and Russian
soldiers’ fidelity to duty is perhaps unequalled in
the history of warfare. The fighting raged for
months, building by building and even room-byroom through that huge and strategic city. I do
not know the German casualties, but I have read
that well over 300,000 of the 500,000 Russian
troops who massed for Stalingrad’s defense (3
out of 5) died in the battle.
What does this have to do with family
history? The valiant soldiers of the Soviet Union
were writing home, and to those homebound
relatives who survived, those letters performed
the unifying and strengthening function of
This is true of diaries or journals also. An
officer in a partisan unit operating behind
German lines in western Russia in the following 4
year, 1943, noted in his diary “I am writing for
So he was. His account of these
Russian partisans’ sacrifices and fidelity to duty
in the most stressful circumstances is inspiring to
anyone who loves his country—any country.
have one main desire,” he wrote in the midst of
conflict. “If it is going to be death, then let it be
quick, not with a serious injury, which would be
the most frightening of all.” As he wrote those
words, his men had already eaten all their
horses, and as winter approached they were
starving to death. Soon after these words were
written they made a suicide attack and broke out
of the encirclement. Many died, but the writer,
Moskvin, survived, with his journal.
Another example of fidelity to duty
involves our own Seely ancestors in three
During the Revolutionary War, members of
our branch of the Seely family were among the
loyalists who fled the colonies for Nova Scotia.
They returned to Luzerne County, Pennsylvania,
but their loyalties to Britain remained, and just
before the War of 1812, they returned to Canada,
near Toronto. There Justus Azel Seely was
drafted into the British army for a time, and there
his son, my third great-grandfather, was born in
1815. The Seely family’s sturdy British loyalist
allegiance is evident in the name they gave this
son: Justus Wellington Seely. The Duke of
Wellington was one of Britain’s heroes in the
Napoleonic Wards of that same period.
This time our Seely family stayed in
Canada. About 20 years later, in 1838, Justus
Azel Seely was a ship owner in Port Whitby,
Ontario, about 20 miles northeast of Toronto.
There, the Mormon missionaries found him and
he was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints. Some months later, this
Seely family joined the Mormons in Illinois.
Eight years later they were part of the exodus
when the Mormons were driven out of that state.
Justus Azel Seely and his son, Justus
Wellington, shared the Mormon pioneers’
adversities in the trek across Iowa, and they
endured the hard winter at Pigeon Grove above
Council Bluffs, Iowa.
On June 21, 1847, this Seely family departed
for the west with a party of six hundred wagons
and 1,553 people. It is noteworthy that the
Seely’s company was the first “emigration
company” of Mormon pioneers. Unlike Brigham
Young’s initial party, which was almost entirely
men to pioneer the path and secure the
destination, the Seely’s emigration company
included people of all ages and an abundance of
cattle, sheep and chickens. They went to settle.
Their duty was to stay for the winter and grow
crops, or starve in the attempt. Toward the end
of their journey this company met Brigham
Young and others, eastbound to rejoin the main
body of the Church in western Iowa and
Nebraska. Brigham told them of the selected
place, and they continued westward, rejoicing.
After their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley,
the Seelys spent the first winter in the Old South
Fort, at the site of what is now Pioneer Park in
Salt Lake City. Each family constructed
adjoining log or adobe dwellings whose back
wall comprised the outside wall of the fort. They
experienced the cold and fear and hunger of the
first winter in the valley and the next year
witnessed the miracle of the seagulls who
rescued their crops from the crickets.
In 1851, four years after their arrival in the
Salt Lake Valley, Justus Wellington Seely, his
brother David, and their families joined a
company of volunteers the Church invited to go
and settle in Southern California. On June 11, the
party arrived in the vicinity of San Bernardino,
where Apostles Charles C. Rich and Amasa
Lyman installed David Seely as the president of
the first stake (regional organization) in what is
The Seelys engaged in many pioneering
activities in the San Bernardino area, including
grapevines and a sawmill. Their sawmill is now
memorialized by a monument in the mountains
above San Bernardino in what is now called
Six years later, in the fall of 1857, President
Brigham Young summoned the outlying
settlements, including San Bernardino, to return
to Utah to help resist General Albert Sidney
Johnson’s army in what historians now call the
“Utah War.” In an inspiring example of fidelity
to duty ahead of personal advantage or
convenience, Justus Wellington Seely and his
family obediently loaded their belongings into a
wagon and made their second pioneering
journey into Utah. In April 1858, after a fourmonth trek, they arrived and settled near Justus
Wellington’s parents in Pleasant Grove.
My final example of fidelity to duty is from
Nels Anderson’s 1942 book, Desert Saints, one of
the first sociological studies of a Mormon